An Ontario judge has sentenced a man “poised to become a terror tourist” to 10 years in prison – the maximum penalty for the charges he faced.
Mohamed Hersi, a Toronto man convicted of trying to travel overseas to join a terrorist group, was sentenced Thursday morning in Brampton by Justice Deena Baltman.
Mr. Hersi never committed or plotted a specific act of violence. Rather, he was arrested in 2011 at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, where he was waiting to get on a flight to London with a connecting flight to Cairo.
He faced two terrorism charges after the RCMP alleged he was on his way to join al-Shabab, a group of Islamist insurgents based in Somalia.
Thursday’s sentence stated that Mr. Hersi, now 28, should serve two consecutive five-year sentences. He would not be eligible for parole until halfway through the 10-year sentence.
In reading her sentencing decision, Justice Baltman said Mr. Hersi was “poised to become a terror tourist” and that she saw “no evidence of any rehabilitative potential on Mr. Hersi’s part.”
She declared that it was important to “send a clear message that such behaviour will result in lengthy prison sentences” and cited cases in both Canada and the U.S. where terrorism-related convictions resulted in severe punishments.
Justice Baltman said many letters of support written by Mr. Hersi’s friends and family seemed to reject the outcome of his trial and that she could “only conclude that there is another side to him that his supporters have never seen or cannot accept.”
She denounced Al-Shabab as a “fanatical” terrorist group and concluded that Mr. Hersi “intended to participate in its violent jihadist activities,” quoting several incriminating comments Mr. Hersi made in conversation with an undercover officer.
Prior to his arrest, police monitored Mr. Hersi, a university graduate who was working as a security guard in Toronto, for six months.
The undercover officer assigned to befriend him had posed as a consultant who was surveying the opinions of security guards.
The officer testified in court that Mr. Hersi told him he planned to join al-Shabab, which Mr. Hersi denied in his own testimony at trial. The officer also told the court that the two of them discussed an English-language al-Qaeda propaganda article, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
Mr. Hersi was charged and convicted under catch-all charges laid under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act. Last year, the Conservative government passed a tougher law that further criminalizes “leaving or attempting to leave Canada” to commit terrorism.
Justice Baltman mentioned in her sentencing that Mr. Hersi would have faced a maximum of 15 years if he were to be charged under that law, known as S7.
Mr. Hersi’s defense lawyer, Paul Slansky, said he will appeal the verdict and said it was “inappropriate” for the judge to mention the new law in Mr. Hersi’s sentencing.
“You can’t impose a sentence in respect of a new offence that didn’t exist at the time. To even mention it and say, well, he would have gotten 15 years, means she’s indirectly taking it into account when she’s not allowed to,” said Mr. Slansky.
He had requested a sentence of three to four years for his client.
Last week, the RCMP laid its first charges under the new terrorism bill against Hasibullah Yusufzai. The 25-year-old man from Vancouver is accused of going abroad to help Islamist fighters in Syria commit an act of “murder.”
In May, a jury convicted Mr. Hersi of attempting to participate in a terrorist activity and providing counsel to a person to participate in a terrorist activity.
With a report from Colin Freeze